'Ray of hope': Sisters prepare for grand opening of black women-owned coffee shop in San Jose

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Starting a business during the COVID-19 pandemic is no easy task, but two sisters in San Jose are proving hard work can help overcome the toughest hurdles.

The black women-owned business officially opens this Saturday, and ABC7 News was given a sneak peek of what's brewing.

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Sisters and San Jose natives Be'Anka Ashaolu and Jeronica Macey are making their mark along South First Street, in the city's SoFA district. Their coffee shop called Nirvana Soul has taken over the former Caffe Frascati site, in the historic Sainte Claire building.

"I was looking for something that was paradise, tropical- something that felt good," Macey told ABC7 News. "And 'nirvana' just came up."

She said the addition of "soul" just sounded right.

The new business is a dream come true for Macey who explained, "I've actually been in coffee for 17 years, starting here in Willow Glen."

She said she's since taken on different jobs, but has always had a passion for working in the coffee industry.

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"I've always had a passion for working in coffee and helping people," she added. "I think it was something that was always rooted in us since we were kids, with our great grandmother. So, it's kind of something that was always dear to my heart."

The sisters said COVID-19 hit shortly after the pair closed their loan and finally got into the space to start cosmetic renovations.

"We didn't set out to open business in the pandemic," Ashaolu told ABC7 News. "So the challenge for us really came, leading up to that point. Obviously, things are hard right now, but we haven't yet opened. We won't open until this Saturday."

The two chronicled their journey on social media, taking their growing list of followers each step of the way.

"From the very beginning, we said we wanted to build this business with people around here in the community," Ashaolu explained. "We want to be transparent about how we're doing it, the roadblocks we were facing and overcoming those roadblocks."

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After putting in the hard work, Nirvana Soul is now ready for an official debut.

Beyond the fancy cyclops coffee brewer and the fresh waffles, the walls are covered in work from local artists.

"All of these artists have never been in a coffee shop," Macey said. "So, it's all of their first times, and it's really special because this was our first time at a business. So, it's really nice to be able to have an opportunity to give other people an opportunity to have faith. That's what this company is all about."

"In terms of what it's providing, how about a ray of hope," Nate LeBlanc, Business Development Manager at San Jose Downtown Association said. "The fact that this has all come together, especially given the extremely dire circumstances that the economy, and just the general state of the world is in right now. It's really nice to get some good news."

Referring to the women's social media following, LeBlanc added, "It's more important than ever to kind of focus on brand and reach. Not just the people immediately surrounding you coming in, but kind of making yourself a destination, and they seem to be proving that that system is a working formula."

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LeBlanc, commending the sisters on their attitude and determination.

"We went on a lot of tours. We looked at a lot of spaces. We asked a lot of people for help throughout this time," he said. "And they were always upbeat. They had a great attitude, and they just wouldn't give up."

Macey said she'd offer this advice to small business owners, "Stay encouraged."

"This is a scary and very difficult time, a time that no one really predicted. So, in a lot of ways, it's not fair to have to go through something like this," she continued. "Keep going and try to be as creative as possible. Continue to reach out to their communities and build out their networks. And the message, really for the community, is to not forget about small businesses."

Macey and Ashaolu aren't letting the pandemic keep them from their dreams. And as protests amplify the demand for social justice and support for black-owned businesses, they're introducing a bit of nirvana.

"We're super inclusive. We are black owned. We're very proud of being black owned, and we hope that everyone will continue that support beyond just this year and this moment," Macey told ABC7 News.

The pair's online store opened to customers in July.

Their shop at 315 S 1st Street in San Jose officially opens Saturday morning.

To visit the official Nirvana Soul website, click here.

For their Instagram page, click here. For Facebook, click here. For Twitter, click here.
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